Anthony (as played by Sir Anthony Hopkins) is an ageing father being cared for by his daughter, Anne (an excellent Olivia Colman). She clearly wants the best for him, however, he just wants her to leave him alone. Rebuffing every caretaker or live-in help that she introduces him to, it’s becoming more and more difficult for Anne to know what to do next. And now the clock is ticking differently. In announcing to her father that she will soon be moving to France, can Anthony have his life the way he wants? Or even remember what it looked like?…
... The Father not only has great acting chops but also genuine heart - even if its owner is gradually forgetting the rhythm he needs to follow.
Opening with Ludovico Einaudi‘s mournful, gnawing harpsichord, director Florian Zeller‘s adaptation of his 2012 play Le Pere, The Father instantly hints at tough choices ahead. Patiently dancing around her father’s moods, Anthony Hopkins takes early swings at Olivia Colman‘s Anne with exclamations like: “So… you’re abandoning me?” -No, she isn’t, because neither the film nor its subject of dementia is that easy. And similar to director Thomas Vinterberg‘s Another Round, when The Father‘s revelations come at you, they do so unevenly and without warning. Again, similar to Mads Mikkelson’s stand-out scene in Another Round‘s first fifteen minutes, Anthony Hopkins will certainly have you tearing up in The Father‘s first twenty.
Having now painted in the basics of Anthony’s world, writer/director Florian Zeller starts to systematically strip facts that we thought we could take for granted. Characters change names. Locations shift between rooms and belongings like Anthony’s watch becomes more of a disputed touchstone than a timepiece.
By increasingly putting you in the shoes of a man losing his sense of direction, the overall effect is pronounced and subtle. Slowly building in intensity and frequency, Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton’s script will have you grasping for facts without ever dipping into sentimentality. For sure there are tragic scenes ahead as Anthony Hopkin’s namesake becomes a man who rages against the dying of the light – and in this respect – Hopkin’s performance is deservedly Oscar-worthy one and right up there with his turn in Remains of The Day. However, he’s not alone here because in The Father it’s a crowded view of talent. Olivia Colman’s Anne is a jagged edge skittering down the patient face of her concern. Soaking up blow after blow, rant after unfounded riposte, her struggle to be considerate is really the main subplot to the film. Unconstrained by such niceties though is Mark Gattis as Anne’s supposedly former husband and a pointed Rufus Sewell, who both get to ask the questions nobody else dares to.
Additionally, what saves The Father from feeling like a confined radio play is Ben Smithard’s cinematography. Exquisitely sharp is a world turned blurry, we actually get to see Anthony’s sense of detail fall into the shadows. Twin this with Ludovico Einaudi‘s aforementioned score and we have disarming drama that is wholly free of melodrama and sentimentality. Having thrown away these most obvious of emotional levers, Florian Zeller brings on Olivia Williams and Anthony Hopkins in a final scene that is almost as unbearable as it tender.
Your throat will harden and the rims of your eyes will glisten, but this scene, much like the preceding 97 minutes, is a course that you really must stay on. The Father not only has great acting chops but also genuine heart – even if its owner is gradually forgetting the rhythm he needs to follow.